Posted by: tootingtrumpet | September 3, 2018

The Final Over of the Week in County Cricket – 3 September 2018

Ball One – Surrey give the rest of Division One a headache

Surrey continued what is looking more and more like a relentless march to the title by swatting aside Nottinghamshire who, having asked Surrey to bat, barely took the match into a third day. The Forgotten Curran (Tom becoming Mark to Sam’s Steve) showed, on his first Championship match of the season, that he’s also a very handy performer, with a fivefer and useful runs. He was also involved in an incident that highlights an issue that irritates your correspondent (and plenty more I venture). Hit on the helmet, Curran was quite correctly subject to concussion protocols and, once cleared, resumed his innings once a replacement lid was located. My suggestion is that such procedures should be undertaken in the dressing room, with another batsman taking Curran’s place (in this case, Morne Morkel), Curran able to return once passed fit. Cricketers find far too many ways to stop playing cricket and 15 minutes lost from a day with 13 men standing in the middle while two men, padded up and helmets on, survey the form in The Sporting Life (metaphorically, of course) isn’t acceptable.

Ball Two – Somerset and Yorkshire are having very different seasons

Somerset hung on to the Londoners’ coattails with a solid team effort to beat a Yorkshire side that looks more like eleven cricketers and less like a team every week – and I know there’s much mitigation for the stop-start season endured by so many Tykes. James Hildreth and the increasingly impressive Lewis Gregory each notched a couple of half-centuries, while Azhar Ali and Steven Davies bagged a brace of 80s, before captain Tom Abell steered his team to the second innings declaration with an undefeated ton. It was a similarly collective effort from the bowlers, with a first innings fiverfer from Josh Davey catching the eye, but the Overton twins picked up nine wickets and that man Gregory the remaining six. Winning without a victim for last week’s hero, Jack Leach, nor the non-selected Dom Bess, shows the kind of balance and options a captain needs as the leaves fall and the tension rises.

Ball Three – Great Dane hounds Worcestershire to defeat

The railway that runs along the side of Southport’s Haig Avenue ground was reputed to have been constructed for punters to attend The Waterloo Cup, the mercifully discontinued hare coursing event, the harrowing sounds of which would float over the flatlands behind the sand dunes and into the school classrooms of my youth. These days, many Lancashire members are baying for the blood of its management committee, but followers of the Red Rose had a win for the ages to celebrate at Trafalgar Road. Dane Vilas delivered a captain’s knock of 107 and Josh “Hamilton” Bohannon, in only his second first class match made 78, the undefeated stand of 139 enough to secure an unlikely victory and a 15 points swing over fellow relegation candidates, Worcestershire. How much of the stuffing that knocked out of the visitors, who had Lanky 85-5 in the first innings and 63-4 in the second, remains to be seen, but it’s fair to say that news of Moeen Ali’s triumphant recall to the Test side will have been greeted with mixed feelings at New Road.

Ball Four – Dan Lawrence’s form returns after a dry spell to fire up Essex

Champions, Essex, are, somewhat surprisingly, third in the table after a win that saw a welcome return to form for Dan Lawrence, his first century this season paving the way for Peter Siddle and Simon Harmer to rattle through Hampshire’s batting en route to an innings victory. The match marked Lawrence’s 50th first class appearance, but, having only turned 21 in July, he’s still a young player and, despite what some people might say, Division One is a tough school in which to learn one’s craft. Expect him – and Essex – to give their heirs presumptive, Surrey, a real test at Chelmsfort this week.

Ball Five – Kent made to work hard by spirited Derbyshire

In Division Two, Ian Bell clattered the bowling all around Colwyn Bay, providing a platform for Jeetan Patel to run through Glamorgan who can’t have enjoyed their annual trip up north – Warwickshire stay top. Kent occupy the other promotion slot having also posted over 500 away, this time at Derbyshire. After the last three wickets had added soul-destroying 168 runs, it might have been easy for Billy Godleman’s team to fold – with little chance of promotion, pride was their only motivation. But that was enough to drive Derbyshire to 400 runs of their own and, although they eventually lost by six wickets, they took the game deep into the fourth day, ultimately 80 or so runs short of setting a tricky target for a post follow-on fourth innings chase. The home supporters will be disappointed with the result, but not the effort, something David Houghton, back in 2019 as Derbyshire’s Head of Cricket, will also have noted.

Ball Six – I come to praise county cricket, not to bury it

With about a quarter of the fixtures left, all eight teams in the County Championship Division One have the title to play for or relegation to avoid; in Division Two, half the ten teams have a shot at promotion. All that despite the marginalising of the four day format by everyone except the fans and the players – after all, they can’t be trusted to know what’s best for the game can they? Sports leagues around the world must look on in envy at how county cricket manages to promote this level of competition (and a regular turnover of champions) and marvel – they must wonder too about why its administrators treat their glorious charge with such disdainful complacency. Why not fight them at their own game? I propose a management consultancy style report into county cricket that has one chapter missing – the finances. Let’s see what independent disinterested analysts say about the County Championship itself, not as a cash cow, not as a feeder for the Test side (though it’s not doing too badly on that objective just now), but as an er… product in its own right. Sometimes (You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (to Cricket!)

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | August 28, 2018

The Final Over of the Week in County Cricket – 27 August 2018

Ball One – The greatest catch I’ve ever seen

Surrey with a first title in 16 years in sight; Lancashire staring at the trap door. For nearly four days (and evenings), batsmen had gutsed it out, Rory Burns’ 70 the only score to cross 43 for the leaders and Lancashire, for the second time, conjuring runs from a tail that had plenty of spine about it. The champion South African bowler, Morne Morkel, with a fivefer in his bag already, charges in to Lancashire’s Number 11, Matt Parkinson, who stands within a blow of winning the match. Just in picture, Will Jacks crouches, concentrating at short leg. And then… this.

Ball Two – More and more from Moeen

The Red Rose needed the White Rose to wilt a little in the sea air of Scarborough to drag the Tykes back into danger – and wilt it did under an extraordinary assault from Moeen Ali. The England man’s tour-de-force started handily with the wicket of gun Kiwi batsman, Kane Williamson, but got a whole lot better in partnership with “Mr Worcestershire”, Daryl Mitchell, the pair putting on 294 for the second wicket, Mitchell’s share 178. Moeen went on to make 219, before, perhaps more inspired by the unmistakable sound of seagulls than one might expect of a Birmingham boy, he took 6-49 to secure an important win. Yorkshireman Joe Root could be excused mixed feelings as he might fancy a bit of that form in his XI this week.

Ball Three – Leach makes Essex bleed

That said, England’s selectors were given another nudge in a splendid match at Taunton. After Marcus Trescothick had doubled his age with 95 in Somerset’s first innings, Essex, having been behind for pretty much all the match, dragged themselves back into it at 223-3, needing 113 more for the win. Jack Leach was already deep into an epic spell, but his dismissal of Dan Lawrence gave him added vigour and he proceeded to dismantle the visitors’ middle and lower order, Somerset winning by 45 runs to hang on to Surrey’s coattails, 32 points behind in second place. Leach had bowled unchanged on the fourth day, dealing with the pressure of expectation, to finish his second innings work with figures of 48-16-85-8. That’s the kind of physical and mental stamina England will need in Sri Lanka.

Ball Four – Murtagh and Bamber find the right answers for Middlesex

In Division Two, Warwickshire, Sussex and Kent all won to keep things very tight in the promotion race, but, after dishing out a fair bit of criticism to Middlesex, this column must highlight an astonishing win for Dawid Malan’s men. It looked business as usual at Wantage Road, as Northamptonshire’s Ricardo Vasconcelos registered a maiden century, pushing on to 140, James Harris’s 7-83 the only bright sign for the Londoners. Nick Gubbins was soon out twice in a day, as Middlesex reached the midpoint of the match with much to reflect upon, following on 127 runs in arrears. Sam Robson made 72, Max Holden bit the hand that fed him last season with 94 and James Harris, enjoying a good match, chipped in with 79* and Northants had an unexpectedly tricky target of 216 to chase. Well, the wily old fox, Tim Murtagh knows exactly how to play that hand, and his fivefer, with strong support from teenage debutant, Ethan Bamber (3-38), whose batting had been crucial in giving Middlesex something to bowl at, proved enough to secure a win by 31 runs. If, and it’s a big if, Middlesex play to their potential, they could yet rescue the season with promotion.

Blame him

Ball Five – Strictly slow, slow, not very quick, slow

All four Vitality Blast quarter-finals proved to be comfortable wins for the progressing teams, who can now look forward to the Finals Day jamboree on 15th September (if it were scheduled for 8th September, it would have a free run in the domestic sports coverage with no Premier League nor Championship football scheduled, but hey ho). It’s reasonable to expect spin to play a part at Edgbaston when one looks at the figures delivered by frontliners in the quarters. Lancashire’s Matt Parkinson, Zahir Khan and Arron Lilley 10-0-62-4; Sussex’s Danny Briggs and Will Beer 8-0-36-4; Worcestershire’s Moeen Ali and Brett D’Oliveira 6-0-45-4; and Somerset’s Max Waller and Roelof van der Merwe 8-0-70-2. Add in excellent stuff from dibbly-dobblers like Daryl Mitchell (4-0-15-1) and how long will it be before we start to talk about what we can do to bring the 80mph+ men back into T20 cricket?

Ball Six – C’mon Sky – do the right thing.

Finals Day is great fun, brilliantly presented by Sky, who strike a tricky balance between treating the competitive sport with due respect, but not forgetting that it’s cricket’s most entertaining day in its most entertaining format. I’ve long been of the belief that Sky should go free-to-air all day as a loss leader to build their subscriber base for the future (in fact, I think all T20 cricket should be FTA for that reason, but I understand that long journeys begin with small steps). Things will change in 2020, so why not allow as many people as possible to enjoy the last climaxes of a competition that can drag a little through the group stages, but has never failed to produce an engaging finale.


Posted by: tootingtrumpet | August 19, 2018

The Final Over of the Week in County Cricket – 20 August 2018

Ball One – Yorkshire’s T20 hopes unravelled by Notts

Though Warwickshire’s trouncing of Lancashire in their penultimate fixture gave them a chance of qualifying via the last round of matches, Moeen Ali’s century took Worcestershire over 200, which proved too much for their local rivals. So Yorkshire vs Nottinghamshire proved to be a play-off for the North Group’s fourth quarter-final spot. David Willey elected to bat first in order to squeeze the chase as the pressure built, but, despite 44 from Adam Lyth and Kane Williamson and 52 from himself, the home side never got away. At the halfway mark, Yorkshire had but 69 up, despite losing only Tom Kohler-Cadmore very early on. A platform (in 20th century currency), but the loss of Adam Lyth to the first ball of the 13th led to a three over stagnation, just 14 runs accrued – and that’s fatal these days. In contrast, though Notts were ahead by only 14 at the midpoint of their innings, they never let the required run rate rise above 8.5 per over, comfortable these days. Alex Hales, probably needing it after a somewhat fraught week, enjoyed an armchair ride to 71 not out off 56 balls and Tom Moores finished things off with a brace of sixes. Well played Notts and well played the Tykes too in getting so close to the knockout stage, largely without their trump card, Adil Rashid, unexpectedly spirited away by England.

Ball Two – Sussex sex up the Blast

In the South Group, Sussex charged into the quarter-finals with wins over Glamorgan, Gloucestershire and Middlesex, making the Sharks er… dangerous floaters come the knockout matches. Potential opponents (with Durham first up) will note that the extreme pace of Tymal Mills and Jofra Archer is supplemented by the guile and experience of Danny Briggs and the mystery of Rashid Khan. Noting that quartet (with Chris Jordan as first change) is one thing: doing something about them is a different matter! Aside from Aaron Finch and Eoin Morgan (494 T20s between them) no batsman really collared that Sharks attack and it’s asking a lot for four or five men to make 30s and 40s in order to set a decent target or sustain a healthy chase. My tip for the Cup.

Ball Three – Middlesex mayhem

What is going on at Middlesex? A nightmarish T20 season was wrapped up by failing to defend 210 against Essex and then (with some mitigation) failing to chase 216 against Sussex. They finished the campaign with a net run rate of -1.128, worsened only by the Northamptonshire’s somewhat spineless Steelbacks. The problem isn’t hard to discern – no bowler went for fewer than Tom Helm’s 8.8 per over. 8.8! James Fuller was thrown the ball in 13 matches and went at 10.8, but you can take your pick really. That internationals, Steven Finn and Ashton Agar, were each carted at an economy rate of 9.4 from their combined 45 overs seems hard to credit. Individuals can have poor seasons, bowling and fielding units can have off days, but such a collective collapse of confidence feels unprecedented amongst a group comprising many seasoned pros. Coach, Daniel Vettori, bad back and all, should probably have had a go himself. We’ve probably entered SOMETHING NEEDS TO BE DONE territory in North London.

Ball Four – Batsman of the Blast

Lewis Gregory probably doesn’t even count himself as a batsman, but a switch flicked earlier this season and he transformed himself into a very handy customer indeed. Back in June, Gregory had a run-of-the-mill record that many lower middle order batsman sustain throughout their careers: 44 innings, 613 runs off 471 deliveries at a strike rate of 130, hitting just under one in six balls to the boundary. In 2018, he was almost twice as effective: 11 innings, 261 runs at a strike rate of 210, hitting one in three balls to the boundary. It would fascinating to hear what had changed in his game – mindset, technique, role or, most likely, a combination of all three. There might be a few coaches looking down their order to uncover 2019’s Lewis Gregory come next Spring.

Ball Five – Bowler of the Blast

There was a time when when an English wrist-spinner was as rare as a walking Australian, but they’re popping up all over the place these days, like reasons to denounce The Hundred. Lancashire’s Matt Parkinson, were he an indie band from Bolton and not a leg-spinner, would be an “underground hit” – those who know of him believe he is The Future (of Lancashire and maybe England too), but plenty haven’t heard of him at all. His numbers in this year’s T20 would have been seen as some kind of voodoo 20 years ago and had people misty-eyed reminiscing about Robin Hobbs: 20 wickets at an average of 18 and an economy rate of 7.5. England play five ODIs and a T20I in Sri Lanka before the three Tests – there’ll be plenty of chat about Parkinson making the first part of that tour and, with Ed Smith enjoying a radical pick or two, maybe even the second.

Slow one or fast one?

Ball Six – Seen any cricket lately?

Last week, 43 summers ago, a 12 year-old boy caught the 61 bus from Seaforth to Aigburth and saw Barry Richards and Clive Lloyd make centuries, but was even more thrilled by Andy Roberts (34.5 – 13 – 77 – 9) in the match that hooked cricket into my DNA for life. I told that story to the very personable Vikram Banerjee, Head of Strategy for the England and Wales Cricket Board, at a panel meeting held at The Barbican (click here for my fuller account of the discussion). I contrasted that opportunity with Lancashire’s fixture list this season (by no means atypical) – seven T20 matches and one County Championship match in the last 51 days, and all at Old Trafford. He took that point, but remarked that the new structure would see cricket at many more outgrounds in 2020. Whether those matches will be as life-changing as the one above remains to be seen.

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | August 16, 2018

The Price of Admission: cricket, music and access

Vikram on his way to 97 FC wickets and a gig at the ECB

On Monday 13 August, 99.94 attended an event that looked at access to cricket (particularly amongst people with South Asian heritage) and compared and contrasted it with access to classical music. Its two speakers were –

Vikram Banerjee

Vikram Banerjee is Head of Strategy for the England and Wales Cricket Board, where he is charged with helping to grow the sport and ensure cricket becomes ‘a game for all’. Having studied at Cambridge and Harvard Business School, Vikram was previously a Strategy Manager at Whitbread, a FTSE100 company with brands including Costa Coffee & Premier Inn. Prior to this, Vikram started his career as a professional cricketer for Gloucestershire County Cricket Club.

Huw Humphreys

Huw Humphreys has been Head of Music at the Barbican since September 2014. This appointment brought him back to the UK after nine years as Director of Artistic Planning of the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, a position he held following six years with renowned artist management agency Askonas Holt and four years as General Manager of the European Union Youth Orchestra. Huw holds a Masters in Music from Oxford University, and spends most of his non-music related life religiously following the Welsh rugby and England cricket teams, and improving his golf swing.

Here are some of the key points of the discussion (paraphrased by me) supplemented by thoughts of my own in italics.

Both speakers admitted / claimed / lamented that the subject of their jobs were associated with traditional ideas of privilege and that something needed to be done urgently to break that impression and build audiences and participation for the future.

Cricket’s outreach programme was successful, but not in breaching the gap between inner city manifestation of the sport and the “middle class” game. Cricket was splitting into two parallel worlds, not by format, but by social and ethnic demographics.

Cricket has been seen (outside communities from the South Asian diaspora) as a game for those already privileged perhaps only in the South and Midlands. In the North, especially Lancashire and Yorkshire, cricket has been, and still is, rooted as much in working class communities as in fee-paying schools. It’s fair to say that such communities have come under huge stress since the de-industrialisation of the 1980s and later and that cricket, like so much else, has suffered as a result.

Cricket is seen as a difficult game, but, at its heart, it’s simple – give kids a bat and ball and soon they’ll be playing a rudimentary form of the game. The ECB is looking to strip out cricket’s complications when promoting access.

In music, the issue was less a matter of perceived complexity but more the panoply of infrastructure “required” for its staging – hall, acoustics, orchestras etc. Music didn’t need that – it should go to new venues, to non-traditional spaces, to where people could listen easily.

My introduction to opera was via a very hot room behind a pub in Upper Street. That took me online where there is more music than anyone could listen to in a lifetime all pretty much free to explore. I’ve since seen opera in grand halls at home and abroad and in the cinema, as well as in the base of a tunnel next to the Thames – and in hot rooms behind pubs. Opera came to me – but now I go to it. 

The ECB did lots of research in asking people what they wanted from cricket and have built a plan to allow them to access it. Vikram – a man of South Asian heritage himself and also extremely personable, excusably steeped in the management speak of MBA graduates and palpably passionate about his work – explained how maps had been constructed from the data, not just to target different ethnicities (“South Asian” is almost insultingly broad brush) but also where facilities were available, and where they were needed.

This sounds impressively thorough, but do people always know what they want? As the story goes, if Henry Ford had asked people what they wanted, he’d have bred a horse that lived twice as long and ate half as much. And how’s that referendum “result” implementation plan going?   

The Women’s World Cup Final was an eye-opener, selling out Lord’s, providing an unforgettable experience for everyone involved, but the crowd wanted low margin coffee and ice cream and not high margin beer. The world looked like a very different place and CEOs took note with a wary eye.

In a similar way, women and BAME / state school students were arriving, at long last, in the top echelons of classical music and making a difference.

The ECB Board had been re-formed to get rid of many of its “pale, male and stale” cricket tragics and bring in a dynamic, diverse new team (including a woman who runs a chain of coffee shops worldwide).

Does anyone outside business schools (alumni of which populated Enron and Lehmann Brothers and countless other disastrous companies) believe the “business people know best” rhetoric any more? The ECB Board and internal structure may well have needed modernising, but this reification of “business” seems strangely outdated post 2008. My experience is that the boards that rely on KPIs, high-powered breakfast meetings and legions of special assistants and consultants, need to be reined in rather than let loose. Especially in fields beyond their expertise, in which the inevitable lack of humility that comes with success in one field encourages them to believe they can do it in another. Often they can’t – take education as a case in point.  

Both speakers agreed that music and sport were universal enterprises that had the power to transcend language, culture and religion and break down barriers.

Although well meaning local initiatives were important, cricket needed a plan, a strategy that got to the heart of what young people wanted in order to engage. Would the club stalwart, who put in the voluntary hours year-in, year-out to support the junior section, really know how to keep 20 five-year-olds’ attention on a Sunday morning? How did cricket get round its labelling by kids as being too “Downton Abbey”?

The ECB Diversity Plan is now part of its core business, with support at board level (champion Lord Patel) and the resources to back up its bold ambition. It is detailed and focused (for example on the ten cities where the vast majority of its target communities lived) and gave 11 tightly drafted priorities as metrics to measure its success. One example – the fact that South Asian kids wanted to play indoor cricket 12 months a year and that girls and women in some communities needed privacy to play – was cited to show how the ECB had listened. Financial return would not the only measure of success any longer.

In this way, the South Asian community’s longstanding rejection of the ECB’s approach to engagement, would be turned around and the benefits of sensitive listening and swift, effective implementation of change would bear fruit.

My question to VIkram related to my own story of going to see Lancashire vs Hampshire at Aigburth, Liverpool, this very week, 43 years ago. How could a working class kid (as I was) do that now when, in the last 46 days, counties have played just seven T20 matches at home and nine of them held a single Championship match, almost none of which were at outgrounds? Vikram said that research said that the public wanted the T20 tournament in a block and that outground cricket was coming back in 2020. Not with Barry Richards, Gordon Greenidge, Andy Roberts and Clive Lloyd playing, was my retort.

There are so many reasons to open up cricket and music to everyone who wishes to enjoy what they bring to life – and, even those who don’t like either, surely recognise the importance of sport and culture in education, community cohesion and public life. The challenge was to ensure that evolution – and maybe revolution – does not leave the existing publics behind as the brave new worlds are embraced. Nobody thinks that’s easy – but surely nobody thinks that the status quo is anything other than a recipe for decline, and possibly very swift decline indeed. 

What I heard suggested that the ECB were getting as much right as wrong – not a bad tipping of the scales in the light its record over the last 15 years, some might say. The proof of the pudding will be in the eating – and I suspect I shan’t live long enough to see the full impact of Vikram and his colleagues’ work. But, and this is no exaggeration, there are few things I want more than to shuffle off this mortal coil knowing that the second half of the 21st century will have space for Test cricket largely as it exists today and a County Championship largely as it existed in 2012. If that’s proves too much to ask, I don’t want it to be for the want of cricket’s leaders faith in the game and energy in its management. With Vikram so closely involved, I think we have the right person in post to make the right calls and deliver that energy 


The Price of Admission event is part of Real Quick, the Barbican’s new series of talks, performance, and creative experiments tackling current affairs and recent events. The Real Quick program is in turn part of our 2018 season The Art of Change, which explores how the arts respond to, reflect and potentially effect change in the social and political landscape.

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | August 13, 2018

The Final Over of the Week in County Cricket – 13 August 2018

Ball One – Red Rose withers, then blooms

After six weeks of sixes, the Vitality Blast enters its last rounds of matches this week. Lancashire have just completed a busy one, starting with a deflating defeat to table-topping Durham, Liam Trevaskis making a name for himself conceding just two off a heart-stopping last over, as Lanky sought the six runs they needed for the win. To their credit, and without Liam Livingstone, their injured skipper, Lancashire bounced back to beat Durham at the end of the week, having despatched Yorkshire and The Birmingham Bears Warwickshire in between. One of the players responsible for the Red Rose charge is teenage left-arm wrist spinner, Zahir Khan, who has taken six wickets at an average of 17 and a strike rate 7.1 since coming into the side. The Afghan is forming a deadly duo with right arm wrist spinner, Matt Parkinson, whose 18 wickets have come at 19.4 and 7.8. Lancashire’s fragile batting, far too dependent on the ultra consistent Alex Davies, may yet stall their progress, but if the tweakers get any kind of score to bowl behind, at least it’ll be fun!

Ball Two – Moores the merrier, as Nottinghamshire and Yorkshire enter decisive week

With Worcestershire also guaranteed a top four slot, the last quarter-final place in the North Group lies between Nottinghamshire and Yorkshire, who play at Headingley this week in what may prove to be a play-off. Notts will start as favourites having beaten the Tykes at Trent Bridge last week, their 212, scored off a depleted Yorkshire attack, proving too many. Tom Moores’ 80 not out anchored the innings in a good season for the wicketkeeper-batsman, in fact, in a good season overall for wicketkeeper-batsmen (though not all are donning the gauntlets in the field). It’s easy to forget that Moores is still only 21, perhaps because he garnered more press coverage than other youngsters since his father is ex-England coach, Peter Moores. It’s never easy to follow in the footsteps of a famous parent, but Stuart Broad and Jonny Bairstow are doing okay just now, and David (son of Peter) Willey will be making plans for that potential showdown.

Ball Three – Corey scores for Somerset

A hat-trick of wins saw Somerset sail clear at the top of the South Group, securing their quarter-final berth. The big Kiwi bruiser, Corey Anderson, proved instrumental in those victories, even if he is not bowling these days. Across those three matches, Anderson (it’s a good week to have that surname) made 150 runs off 78 balls, striking 6 fours and 12 sixes. Usually coming in around the halfway mark and certainly after the powerplay overs, that’s the kind of hitting that lifts a target beyond opponent’s batting capacity or re-invigorates a stalling chase. Anderson will never be a pretty player to watch, but few are more powerful.

Ball Four – Cockbain crows after miraculous knock

In a productive week for the West Country clubs, Gloucestershire joined Somerset in the quarters with two wins and a washout. They racked up a remarkable 242-4 against the increasingly ragged Middlesex, Ian Cockbain’s 123 off 61 the standout performance. Cockbain (at this point I’m obliged to write that I played against his grandfather, the formidable Big Ronnie Cockbain of Bootle CC) is exactly the kind of journeyman pro for whom it occasionally clicks and a glorious day ensues – and county cricket’s many followers, no matter their personal allegiances, always crack a wry smile when it does. Much can happen between now and Finals Day on 15 September, but I do hope some journeymen make it to Edgbaston and that short term overseas players and loan deals do not crowd them out. There ought to be a rule forbidding such sharp practice, but who knows?

Ball Five – Can Joe Denly find a home in England’s squad for Sri Lanka?

The other two spots in the knockout stage rest between Kent, Glamorgan, Surrey and Sussex, all of whom will be praying for a bit of more luck with the weather this week compared to last. Kent have the most points of the quartet and the momentum, such as it is, after a win over whipping boys Middlesex at Beckenham.  Joe Denly underlined his all-rounder status again, having been taken for a predictable 13 in the first over of the match by Paul Stirling,  he returned to take 3-12 in the remaining three overs of his allocation, not conceding a boundary on a bijou ground. England have five ODIs and a T20 coming up in Sri Lanka and could do a lot worse than having another look at a man who last played for England as a pure batsman nine years ago. The legspinner’s T20 record in 2018 reads 16 wickets at 15.1 and a strike rate of 7.7 and, in 50 overs cricket, 14 wickets at 30.8 and 5.9 – it speaks of a man reborn at 32 years of age.

Ball Six – Two batches of almost 36 overs – two very different games

What is this “cricket” of which you speak?

I was lucky enough to be at Lord’s for the Test match on Friday and witnessed 35.2 overs in which India crept to 107 all out, failing to deal with the swing and seam England’s bowlers were able to generate at will. Too often, bats were half-closed as heads moved outside the line of the ball, the better to flick it into the legside for runs – that it was hard enough to hit the ball with the full face did not deter such ill-judged “strokes”. Before I left HQ, I watched a bit of televised T20 as Glamorgan and Hampshire played 35.5 overs, in which 306 runs were scored for the loss of the same number of wickets I has seen fall at Lord’s. The legside play in Cardiff was more successful, the bowling less skilled and the batting more confident. That said, nobody arriving from Mars that day would have claimed that they were watching the same game, so different was, well, everything. But is this stark (and growing) difference in cricket’s formats a strength to be celebrated or a weakness to be feared?

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | August 13, 2018

England vs India Second Test Day Four

One of India’s better spells in the match

Batting was difficult under leaden skies when England resumed, the lead 250. Quite what the batsmen, Chris Woakes and Sam Curran, swingers both, made of it, I don’t know, but surely they would have preferred to have ball in hand. Quick runs were the only justification for Joe Root’s delaying of the declaration and Curran was first into T20 mode, jumping around in the crease to smear Mohammed Shami through the covers and then slog the inevitable short retort into the Tavern Stand. Smart cricket from a very smart cricketer.

He perished from the first ball bowled by Hardik Pandya, caught by Shami at Third Man for 40 – exactly how a Number 8 should go when the lead is 289. Woakes walked in to examine the red ink showing his score – 137 – with every right to be as pleased as Punch with his work. No doubt his bowling fingers were twitching too, as the clouds lowered and lowered.

It took Jimmy Anderson eight deliveries to pick up his 100th wicket at Lord’s, bringing one back down the slope to take the inside edge of Murali Vijay’s bat. India were, for the second time in three days, 0-1 with the captain indisposed by a bad back – to say nothing of a bad side – and things looked grim.

Anderson was bowling beautifully, but he hardly needed to in snaring KL Rahul, who had learned exactly nothing from his colleagues’ capitulation in the first dig, playing round his front pad to a straight ball, hit dead in front. Pathetic.

Vice-captain, rather than captain, emerged as the rain loomed larger and larger. Ajinkya Rahane had big shoes to fill and as tough an assignment as the game offers.

He had plenty of time to consider the task at hand over an extended lunch, the product of light rain. The players were back on at 2pm and Woakes bounced in, the puppyish mien still clinging to his 29 year old frame. It was his match, as his Man of the Match award would attest.

Stuart Broad sent Rahane back, the right-hander stretching to get an edge to a ball that flew to third slip where Keaton Jennings took a sharp catch. Rahane had done the hard work in getting to 13, so why he felt the need to play at so wide a delivery was another mystery to add to a few in this match.

With his captain fighting and in real pain, Che Pujara was working very hard to preserve his wicket – a rare instance of a tourist not called Kohli putting a high price on his name. Broad, running in with that rhythm that always portends trouble at the other end, found the kind of late in-duck that Waqar Younis would find on the southern side of the Thames, and cleaned up Pujara with a ball that was pretty much unplayable. The returning Number 3 had batted 87 balls for his 17 – a decent effort in which he could take some pride.

Kohli was doing all he could to blank out the pain from his back and from the scoreboard, but Broad had that glint in his eye, charging in and up at around 90mph. A blur of glove, bat and thigh pad sent the ball to Ollie Pope, diving forward at short leg. Out said Aleem Dar! Review said Virat Kohli! Out said the shallow spike that could only be contact between ball and glove and India’s last hope walked, stiff-backed, back to the massage table, a valiant opponent vanquished.

Dinesh Karthik’s first ball was a horrible inswinger that rapped him on the pad and Dar was in the game again and right again on review, the umpire rivalling Broad in skill and application. Ravichandran Ashwin survived the hat-trick ball and the umpires sent the players away, as bad light and rain combined to offer some respite to the beleaguered visitors. 66-6 – the Indians in a devil of a spot.

Broad had 4-16, and the satisfaction of silencing the critics who were murmuring about rotating him out at Trent Bridge – no chance of that now. The match turned bitty – both batsmen rapped on the hands and needing treatment (although why that needs to be administered on the field instead of in the dressing rooms, is always lost on me).

Pandya and Ashwin played a few shots and, inevitably, some of the intensity went from the English bowling. The scoreboard advanced to three figures and, though the show of competitive pride from the all-rounders was appreciated, nobody was mistaking them for VVS Laxman and Rahul Dravid, 2001 versions. Pandya has talent though, revealing it with a beautiful drive back past Broad, all the way to the pavilion. What a different game it is when the full face of the bat is presented to the ball!

But he couldn’t resist a crooked shot to Woakes’s first ball of a new spell and was hit high, but stuck on the crease, and such deliveries are often shown to be going on to hit. So it proved – Pandya’s enterprising knock terminated on 26, India 116-7 with just the bowlers to come.

Kuldeep Yadav was stitched up like a kipper by Anderson, pulled across the crease before a grenade burst through the gate, bowled, the second pair for India after Vijay’s double demise. Shami was given out second ball, caught down the legside off an Anderson bouncer, but it looked “wrong” to the naked eye and the “no spiking” snicko reprieved the opening bowler.

Not that it mattered, Shami almost swinging himself off his feet in missing a straight one, LBW, another duck, another for Anderson.

Fittingly, it was Woakes who closed out the match, Ishant Sharma middling a leg glance, but directing it to Pope who had spirited himself in to leg slip for exactly that shot. India were all out for 130, with Ashwin left high and dry on 33, a finger-bashing knock that said much about his professionalism in a side that looked a little short of heart as well as skills in such difficult conditions.

England, the team that needed no luck, got all that was going, from the moment Root called the toss correctly. That said, Anderson (9-43) and Broad (5-81) drew upon the experience that put nearly 1000 Test wickets against their names, to blow away the pride of Indian batting and Woakes (4-43) and Curran (1-53) were not not far behind the two champions. Adil Rashid, who possibly needs to pay his subs, was not required to bat or bowl.

While India will reflect on a heavy defeat (there’s no sugarcoating an innings and 159 runs), they can take some solace from reducing England to 89-4, the match tilting a little on its second afternoon. Cue Bairstow and Woakes, whose stand of 189 took the India win out of the equation. Woakes’s 137 not out proved the centrepiece of the match, but Bairstow’s 93 was a crucial momentum shifter.

India’s captain is a tough and honest man and he refused to blame conditions for the hammering. With injuries, not least his own, and too many players hideously out of form, he will demand changes for Trent Bridge on Saturday. One feels that India need a good weekend in Nottingham, because if they get behind in the game, 2-0 down and with only one batsman in form, the series could disappear very quickly indeed. For England, the only question might concern the possible return of Ben Stokes, but if his services are not available, he’ll hardly be missed.

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | August 12, 2018

England vs India Second Test Day Three


Under egg shell blue skies, with a rapt crowd (and not the wrapped crowd of the previous two sodden days), Ishant Sharma and Mohammed Shami looked in vain for the lavish movement Jimmy Anderson and Chris Woakes found in Friday’s damp. It would, of course, be more elusive with August asserting its true character, and an early leg stump line didn’t help, as Keaton Jennings and Alastair Cook settled early nerves with bat on ball.

England progressed serenely to 28-0 when, as has happened throughout the series, a wicket came from nowhere, Shami angling one into Jennings’ front pad, pinning him plumb LBW for 11. Inexplicably, Cook advised the review – and it was hitting middle and leg, as everyone knew. It was a poor shot from Jennings, who lost his shape, yet another to be out trying to work the ball to leg. He would not be the last.

Cook (21) soon followed his fellow opener back to the pavilion, edging a near perfect Sharma delivery the line of which demanded the defensive bat, but the movement of which made the kiss through to Dinesh Karthik inevitable. Beautiful bowling from a man who was settling into his work.

Ollie Pope received a tremendous reception from the always appreciative Lord’s crowd (save Ian Botham 1981 obviously) and tucked his second ball to the square leg boundary to open his account in Test cricket. If anything, Pope looked like the man with 6000 Test runs and Joe Root the young tyro, the debutant positive in his footwork and straight in his presentation of the bat. The England captain was feeling for the ball, looking to get into his preferred busy rhythm, an aim helped by some loose stuff from Hardik Pandya, looking more a fifth seamer than a third.

Pope’s impressive cameo was concluded on 28, yet another victim of the almost compulsive collective desire to clip the ball to leg that batsmen have exhinbited over the last four sessions. The review was in vain, and England were out of that insurance policy after just 21 overs. Pandya had a somewhat unexpected notch in the wickets column.

Root (19) inexplicably played back (if his jab could be deemed a shot at all) to a length delivery from the returning Shami, who seamed it in a little to nail the England captain on the crease, neither forward nor back to one that did keep a bit low – plainly LBW with his team having burned both reviews. It was yet another poor shot in a match littered with them. Such was the incompetence on show that people wondered if it was only the dismal over rate that would ensure play tomorrow.

England resumed after lunch on 89-4 with Jos Buttler the new man, joining fellow keeper, Jonny Bairstow. It was hard to credit, but Ravichandran Ashwin had not yet had a bowl, Kohli plumping for Shami and Sharma at their favoured ends to start the session, as clouds gathered over the pavilion.

England moved into credit with the shot of the day – of the match – Bairstow driving a straight full ball slightly onside of the non-striker, the contrast with the regular repeated failed attempts to clip to midwicket as marked as it was predictable. Bairstow and Buttler were playing a different game, the footwork more positive than all their predecessors in the match, save Pope, and their confidence blossoming as a result. The slip cordon was reduced to a pair as Kohli sensed the game rapidly going away from him.

Almost inevitably, Buttler played all round his pad to be LBW to the persevering Shami. Having been shown the value of driving down the ground by Bairstow, it was a hugely disappointing way to go, his 24 a nothing score even in a low scoring match. The lead was also 24.

Woakes and Bairstow looked as comfortable as any partnership in advancing the lead into “handy” territory, helped by Kohli’s strange reluctance to toss the ball to Ashwin (323 wickets) favouring Pandya (8 wickets). Drinks brought a change of heart and the off spinner had his chance.

Bairstow was playing the innings of substance that was always likely to come from one of the England batsmen and, with Woakes playing his usual sensible hand at the other end, the lead advanced into “handy” territory with “dominant” looming. Kohli, no doubt looking around the field for Umesh Yadav but only finding his callow namesake, Kuldeep, was powerless as the runs began to flow, the game tilting towards only two results: the England win or the rain-affected draw.

England’s lead was 123 at tea with Woakes (55) cruising and Bairstow (62) with pipe and slippers on, and it looked a long way back for India, a side that looked at least one pacer short and, consequently, mentally and physically exhausted. The only respite looming was the product of an appalling over rate that would surely slice about half a dozen from the day. With the Bairstow / Woakes alliance going at above four an over with a tiring attack to flog, that would matter with a late declaration an increasingly attractive option.

With the cloudbase ever lower and the gloom surprisingly not ameliorated by the floodlights, England were that little bit more circumspect after tea, but they, unlike India yesterday, had done the hard yards in wearing down the bowlers and the runs soon flowed like Double Diamond at a Gillette Cup Final. Woakes, in particular, was imperious, blasting and then stroking Ashwin for consecutive fours, forcing Kohli to turn to Sharma, a man whom he would surely prefer to save for the new ball.

There were ones where there should have been dots, twos that should have been singles and, as always happens in these circumstances, boundaries off the edge. India weren’t quite a rabble, but England could hardly have been any more on top. Such a position is earned – even in the much more challenging batting conditions India faced, if anyone had got their head down and battled through to fifty (as Kohli did at Edgbaston) batting is always easier – nobody did.

Woakes won the private battle with Bairstow to reach three figures first, raising his maiden Test ton with a pull off a half-hearted bouncer from Pandya. The lead soon stretched above 200 with the partnership not far behind and thoughts turned to Bairstow repeating the trick and then a possible declaration. Woakes had joined a select group of seven Englishman on both Honours Boards (and he’s on the “Ten Wickets in a Match” one too), Lord’s very much his favourite ground.

It wasn’t to be for YJB, the keeper brilliantly caught by his opposite number, having flashed very hard at a wide one from Pandya, 93 runs his share of a game-changing 189 runs partnership. Bairstow, as popular as anyone amongst England players and fans, got a huge hand, acknowledgement of achievement tempered with sympathy. Karthik’s catch was lost a little in the moment, but, towards the end of a long day and under the cosh, it was a splendid effort.

The second Surrey 20-year old in the XI arrived at the crease in a very different match situation to that of his county colleague, nevertheless he immediately looked as much at home as he did at Edgbaston. India were hanging on for the new ball and runs were on offer all round the ground – Sam Curran just got on with accumulating the easy pickings, like an old pro.

It was proper dark with the lights very bright indeed when the umpires came together to send the players from the field. The score was 357-6, the lead a round 250, with Woakes on 120 and Curran 22.

It had been, as the cliché almost has it, a day of two halves, ball lording it over bat as England limped to 131-5, no batsman making fewer than 11, but none going past Pope’s 28 either. But as the ball softened and bowlers went into the third spells, batting became less problematic, then easier and ultimately a breeze for a positive Bairstow and a silky smooth Woakes. They put their team into a totally dominant position at the end of the third day, with India needing the intervention of the weather gods or that of their very own batting god to avoid going two down with three to play.

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | August 11, 2018

England vs India Second Test Day Two

Again and again and again

After the first day washout, Joe Root won the toss and elected to bowl, as clouds gathered over a greenish strip – not that anyone can say anything about a pitch until it’s used. England had gone with the expected changes from the victorious Edgbaston XI, with debutant Ollie Pope in for Dawid Malan and Chris Woakes for the indisposed Ben Stokes, whose forward defence this week is of a different kind. India also made a couple of changes, Che Pujara for Shikhar Dhawan and the “mysterious” Kuldeep Yadav for the unlucky Umesh Yadav.

It took only five balls for Murali Vijay to attempt to flick an outswinging fullish ball from James Anderson into the leg side – the result was as predictable as the shot, the off stump pinned back and India 0-1. It was as poor in execution as it was in conception – almost comically bad for so experienced a campaigner. Some may point to the excellence of the delivery as mitigation, but what does one expect in the first hour from Anderson?

The next wasn’t long coming, KL Rahul getting an Anderson delivery that he did well to nick to Bairstow, gone for 8 after a fierce examination of his appreciation of the off stump. The threatened rain arrived and brought India some much needed relief, a cloudburst sending the players off with the score 11-2 and Virat Kohli, already looking like India’s only hope, off the mark with a single.

After a 75 minutes delay, the rain relented long enough for Pujara and Kohli to concoct a run out that had to be seen to be believed, both batsmen ending up at the same end, the single never there. Ollie Pope’s first contribution to his country’s cause was to keep his head, running in from point to remove a bail when a fling at the stumps would have been expected from some (for example, an absent friend). Rubbing salt into the wound, torrential rain arrived before Ajinkya Rahane emerged the Long Room. Kohli, who had taken one, maybe two, steps too many for Pujara to turn back, had some explaining to do. With the rain heavier than ever, he had plenty of time to do so, while pondering a scoreboard that read a sorry 15-3.

The sun teased us by poking its head out from behind the clouds for long enough to prompt the umpires to set a time for a number of resumptions, but the showers, often of monsoon intensity, butted in just as the players were ready to go. The Lord’s crowd (and is there a more patient one in the world?) looked on philosophically and opened another bottle of chardonnay. Kohli surely seethed.

The miracle that is the Lord’s drainage did its job and, incredibly, play resumed in the evening sunshine, most of the crowd having sat out the long delay. England had five slips for Anderson and Kohli punched a four through extra cover to get the blood flowing and the scoreboard ticking. England had everything in their favour, a full session scheduled in which only the home side could take a real advantage.

Joe Root’s move into the slips cordon did not improve its effectiveness after its fallible Test in Birmingham, as the England captain spilled a sharp chance offered by Rahane off Broad. He was close to the wicket and the ball went quickly, but any slipper would expect to take the chance more often than not.

Anderson was giving a masterclass in swing bowling, moving it late from on or around the of stump. Kohli tried to resist, but couldn’t help himself, flashing at fresh air as the ball curved and kicked away. Broad wasn’t extracting the same response from atmosphere nor pitch, but his probings were still a handful.

But Chris Woakes, who replaced Broad, was immediately more threatening, moving the ball Andersonesquely. The slips looked as comically bad as ever when Kohli was dropped by Jos Buttler at second slip, but the very next ball, the same combination delivered, Woakes snaring Kohli for 23, India 49-4 and Buttler feeling a whole lot better. There were 16 overs left in the day and England were certainly contemplating a late evening bat.

No matter the difficulties of conditions and the quality of the bowling, the compulsive desire to work the ball from off to leg despite the swing taking it the other way was dismally ill-judged. Never mind technique, secondary school physics explains why a straight bat is needed to intercept a swinging ball – Test players shouldn’t need such basic instruction.

Incredibly, Buttler and Woakes repeated their drop-then-catch trick off consecutive balls to dismiss Hardik Pandya, the movement far too much for the all-rounder. Dinesh Karthik continued the procession, bowled off the inside edge through a yawning gap by Sam Curran. India were 62-6 and looked likely to lose their next four wickets from the next four balls.

Rahane and Ravichandran Ashwin rebuilt to the extent of taking the score to 84, when the return of Anderson induced an edge from Rahane that was taken by Alastair Cook at first slip.To be fair, Rahane’s was the first dismissal that had no element of contributory negligence, the shot defensive, the bat close the pad, the foot moving to the ball. Sometimes it really is too tough when you’re up against a man with over 500 wickets.

That said, maybe I’m too harsh or too old, but these were not 85-7 conditions. Line up the ball, watch it all the way, play it late with a straight bat with no gap between it and the pad, keep the hands soft and do not attempt to clip it to leg. Then, wait for the bad ball. It’s always easy from the boundary though, isn’t it?

Kuldeep Yadav illustrated the point by attempting to get off the mark by whipping James Anderson from middle stump to deep square leg. Really? It was, with the ball swinging, a shot he could essay 100 times and connect perhaps thrice. Mohammad Azharuddin might have had the percentages in his favour but Kuldeep is no Azhar – few are.

The two opening bowlers needed four runs to raise the three figures and the talk was that England might fancy wasting a bit of time to avoid a very nasty few minutes in the gathering gloom. Mohammed Shami had other ideas and wasn’t going to die wondering, slicing edges over the slips to breach the 100.

It couldn’t last – and it didn’t, Ishant Sharma LBW to Anderson, India 107 all out off the last ball of the day. England’s fast-medium men had bowled very well, Anderson’s 5-20 the obvious highlight, but Woakes was as impressive, his 2-19 not fully reflecting his control of line and length. Curran and Broad chipped in with one each and never let the pressure off with four balls. The catching remained inconsistent at best.

The story of the day was roughly 75% wonderful bowling and 25% dismal batting. Kohli nneds to read the Riot Act, dig out the dusty textbooks and remind his charges about the basics of batting. There’s no shame in finishing a day 27 not out off 100 balls – but who had any appetite for that?

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | August 7, 2018

The anatomy of a great Test match

August is silly season in the Press – Parliament is not sitting, most of the Westminster Bubble’s occupants are in Tuscany or Edinburgh and stories can be tricky to find. But as sure as one reads the “One man and a dog watched the only County Championship match to escape the snow” pieces in April, one reads the “Good ol’ Test cricket – though it’s not what it was in my youth and how many more years has it left anyway?” articles in August.

The Guardian ran two such articles on the same day last week (by Kenan Malik and Mary Dejevsky) and, though I’ll limit my criticism of their tough love doom-mongering to inviting them to consider the “crowd” for English cricket’s most celebrated innings – see for yourself here – I want to take this opportunity to analyse how Edgbaston produced a magnificent Test match, the greatest of games’s alchemy spinning gold from wood, grass and leather yet again.

The multi-millionaires of India squared off against the millionaires of England and it mattered, it really mattered. The home side had surrendered The Ashes meekly, blown away by Australia’s sheer Australianess Down Under, then lost the series in New Zealand or drew at home to Pakistan. India had a number one ranking to defend and a dismal overseas record to improve – the game’s new financial and administrative masters needed the team that wore their crest to play like masters. What about those T20I and ODI wins  / defeats? On the first day of a Test series, such matters are of no relevance to anyone on the field or in the stands.

Test cricket is an accumulation of events from which sub-plots emerge within the overarching story. For such an antiquated, twee, terminally unsexy entertainment format, it’s remarkable how much the “box set” event television of Game of Thrones or Westworld owes to Test cricket’s narrative structure. Everyone expected James Anderson bowling to Virat Kohli to be one such sub-plot, but we were barely half an hour into the match when India’s leading spinner, Ravichandran Ashwin (a man with much to prove in England) stitched up Alastair Cook like a kipper. Ashwin repeated the trick in the second innings, Cook losing his off bail again, and the duel was set up for the series as a fascinating individual battle, with England’s leading run scorer’s career at stake. Just wait for the murmur-then-hush to descend on Lord’s the moment Kohli tosses the ball to his off spinner with Cook at the crease.

England were 216-3, the captain cruising to a century in the company of his batsman-wicketkeeper, Jonny Bairstow, the pair putting away four balls and pinching singles against a fielding side with too many camels. The two Yorkies had grown up together and had played matches all over the world, both of them super fit and quick (Root) and lightening (Bairstow) between the sticks. India, as they had too often on the last two tours (2014 lost 3-1; 2011 lost 4-0) were waiting for something to happen. And then it did. Kohli swooped and threw off balance, on the turn, his momentum going away from his target, but he hit the stumps at the bowler’s end and they lit up. And so did the contest.

That this India would play with the heart of its captain was now irrefutable, Kohli, without yet facing a ball, had stamped his personality on the match, on the series and, after too many one-sided Tests in recent years, we knew these tourists would not, once behind in a match, give up and coast into the next Test. England soon surrendered six wickets for 69 runs to close on 285-9, the day finishing even after both sides had enjoyed periods of dominance. It felt like a tone had been set – two sides reflecting their cricketing traditions, but evenly matched – what would separate them would be players’ willingness to embrace the unique challenge of five day cricket.

That theme was explored on a second day that nobody lucky enough to be there, will ever forget.

Like an opera, Test matches can include periods when you feel you’re allowed to take a break: the emotions aren’t quite as high; the big arias are yet to come; the heroes’ and villains’ characters not wholly developed. The morning of the second day felt like that for 90 minutes or so. England’s innings had been wrapped up swiftly and India’s openers had posted a largely untroubled 50.

England’s champion bowlers, Anderson and Stuart Broad had bowled well, but neither had enjoyed the bit of luck everyone needs and the shine was wearing off the new ball. Then, as would happen in the old Batman TV show, a KAPOW!! flashed across our vision.

Sam Curran’s selection had slipped under the radar amidst the whining about Adil Rashid’s transporting to Edgbaston directly from white ball cricket. The Surrey leftie is young, but otherwise (it seemed) largely unremarkable – not a speedster protégé bursting on to the scene like Patrick Cummins or Kagisa Rabada did a few years previously, nor a Southern African whose commitment might be open to question like, well, you know. He had a name to make – and he did.

Curran bagged the top three in the Indian order in the space of 17 balls to lurch the game forward again and received the ultimate mark of arrival as a bona fide international sports star – he was trending on Twitter. Lunch, which had looked like a rather relaxed affair in which speculation on whether India might enjoy a small lead at the end of the day might have been the main topic of conversation, turned into a scrabble through the databases to find other 20 year-olds who had taken three wickets in an innings for England – and there weren’t many. Cricket had a new face – a baby-faced assassin – to talk about, the sport renewing its cast before our wide eyes.

Not for the last time, the focus of millions zoomed in on the Indian captain, a man who has lived his entire adult life under such scrutiny, revelling in the attention, a man who embraces pressure and feeds off its seductive ego building energy. England bowled brilliantly, Root captained perfectly, but England fielded badly, Kohli dropped in a moment that prompted everyone, on the field, in the stands or at home, to whisper to themselves, “He’ll make them pay for that.” The scoreboard was largely static – appropriately, as nobody was moving in the crowd nor in the Press Box.

In any endeavour, greatness is bestowed across a career, the perspective required in order to capture its breadth – but not now. In these hours, we would see greatness embraced, established, underlined as Kohli fought to get himself into a match that was sliding rapidly away from the grip of his iron will, then forge on to get his team into the series. Some claim that such innings do not deserve the description “great” as they include flaws – the dropped catch, frequent plays and misses, edges not quite carrying – but such incidents merely add to the lustre. It was never easy for Kohli, indeed it was often very difficult indeed, but the application of skill, the control of temperament and the calling upon of immense reserves of concentration got him through. I have no hesitation in putting the innings in the top five I’ve been privileged to see, live or on television.

Somehow, day two also finished level, England 22 ahead, but Ashwin 2-0 up on Cook. Too slow, you say, for the T20 generation?

Few expected England to find a batsman who could match Kohli’s 149, but few expected to see a scoreboard that soon screamed 87-7, the match, if not gone, very much standing in the hall with its coat on. I wondered about England’s chances – 500/1 crossed my mind – but Ian Botham seemed as absent in spirit as in physical presence.

Curran didn’t know about 1981 and all that – he was born in 1998 – and he seized the moment like a caricature of youthful innocence. Unfazed by a restive crowd, some of whom had had just about enough of England collapses, he played each ball on its merits, defending with a plumb straight vertical bat, not always moving his feet into textbook positions to attack, but trusting a hand-eye coordination that lay within the spirals of his DNA. He looked like he was playing in a schools festival, not rescuing a crucial Test match against the best team in the world.

Then he opened up, stroking the ball to the boundary off the front foot, bludgeoning it off the back foot, rousing the crowd who, once again, couldn’t believe what was going off out there. His 63 prompted another flick through the record books (fifth youngest to make a half century for England) and set India 194, tough, but clearly gettable if someone (and we all knew who) could play a major innings.

The Saturday crowd arrived early knowing that every ball mattered, as the Test had been reduced to the simplest of challenges (with the widest range of possibilities): England needed five wickets; India needed 84 runs. Dinesh Karthik went early, but the crowd barely noticed, all eyes on Kohli, whom England surely needed to dismiss if victory were to be secured. Root was brilliant, starving Kohli of the strike through fields that invited him to take the single early in the over, but maintained the slips that showed him his jeopardy, while attacking Hardik Pandya, who, to his credit, played with much of the nous and verve displayed by Curran the previous day. But India were creeping towards their target and showing no signs of the anxiety that England’s pressure was intended to provoke.

Root had to make something happen, so he tossed the ball to the man who makes things happen – Ben Stokes. England’s all-rounder had looked gaunt, a little hollow-eyed, like a man who wasn’t sleeping too well – and everyone knew why – but, like so many sports stars with problems, Stokes came alive in the cauldron of competition. Having been set up by the first two balls he faced from the England man, Kohli lost concentration momentarily and, perhaps knowing that he had to take the fight to England’s most combative player, fell slightly across his front pad essaying a whip to leg, palpably pinned LBW. Stokes was The Man again.

As he left the field, taking India’s hopes with him, the crowd rose to Kohli, the applause loud enough to be heard in Delhi. England’s fans had enjoyed baiting him as a pantomime villain after his first day send-off for Root, but they recognised what he had done for his team and the entertainment for which he, with 200 runs set against his compatriots’ 214 between them, was responsible. Kohli had quietly clapped in the direction of Curran after his game-changing innings, but England couldn’t do that with the tail still to mop up, but I like to think that they would have if they could. God knows he deserved it.

The scorebook says that England won the First Test by 31 runs – the expected result, if a closer call than most would have predicted four days earlier. Test cricket had also shown its hand: a topsy-turvy match, the balance shifting hour by hour; great players demonstrated why their reputations are deserved; youngsters forging the early chapters in their Test stories; and Test match cricket entralling its audience once again.

There’s plenty that’s wrong with cricket just now (something that’s been written pretty much every day since 1877 I’d venture) but does anything in life provide its canvas of possibilities, its simple complexities, its bloody-marvellousness?

Not even close…



Posted by: tootingtrumpet | August 6, 2018

The Final Over of the Week in County Cricket – 6 August 2018

Carlsen – making all the right moves

Ball One – Kiran Carlson the master of a grand game at The Oval

Twenty20 cricket can be maligned for its formulaic quality, its try-hard presentation (a thickish edge for four does not warrant enough flares to herald the second coming of VE Day) and its (often) boozy, boorish crowds (they might need to do something about that if they want new demographics through the gate). But (whisper it) just because T20 isn’t Test cricket doesn’t make it a bad game. I literally stopped off at The Oval on the way home on Tuesday evening, intending to catch an hour’s play before sorting things out for the trip to Edgbaston, but became gripped by a fine match – skill levels were high, both teams completely committed, the very decent crowd fully involved. Glamorgan beat Surrey, partly due to a fifty from Kiran Carlson, who has the fastest hands I have seen in years. I stayed for the duration – so did everyone else.

Ball Two – Vitality Blast showing plenty of vitality

With teams having played nine or ten matches of the 14 match group stage, perhaps only four teams are out of the reckoning for a quarter-final berth and a shot at Finals Day (Northamptonshire, Hampshire, Middlesex and Essex). To maintain an interest for the 14 other counties (and for those four stragglers to include some unexpected names) shows that the structure of the competition – at least when the sun shines – isn’t bad at all. If only national media outlets allowed the narrative of the season to seep into the national consciousness – but those days have gone.

Ball Three – Ross Whiteley cleans up down the order

To underline the competitive quality of the tournament, Worcestershire lead the North Group (ahead of four Test Match ground counties) after back-to-back wins over second placed Durham and Nottinghamshire. Those matches saw Ross Whiteley make 60 and 32 not out off a total of 44 balls – his role as finisher delivered perfectly. Whiteley is one of those pros of whom little is known outside county cricket’s geekish aficionados, but, amongst those, there are few players who empty the bars more quickly when they walk to the middle. A very handy player to have on board, as Worcestershire eye a slot in the top four

Ball Four – Mohammad Nabi nabs an unlikely win for Leicestershire

Performance of the Week in the North Group goes to Mohammad Nabi, the Afghan hounding Lancashire’s bowlers relentlessly,  turning what looked a routine defeat for Leicestershire into a win in the space of eight overs of mayhem. Having been set a stiff 191 to win after Alex Davies’s 94 not out, the visitors needed 99 runs from 9 overs after Nabi had blocked his first ball. With that cold calculation that the best T20 players exhibit these days, he let himself get his eye in, unconcerned by an asking rate rising to well over 12, and then teed off. Two fours and two sixes off an Arron Lilley over pushed the rate back into single figures and a blaze of six sixes off the last 17 balls of the match saw Leicestershire over the line with eight balls to spare. Nabi had made 86 of the 99 runs required just half an hour earlier, off a mere 32 balls – once again, the limits of what is possible to chase had been pushed back (see Ball Six below)

Ball Five – Jerome Taylor suits Somerset well

In a good week, Somerset beat Hampshire, Essex and Sussex to leap to the top of the South Group. Their standout player in such a splendid run of form was probably Jerome Taylor (yes, that Jerome Taylor) who took 5-15 to cut the ground away from Hampshire’s chase; 3-28 to set up the Johan Myburgh Show (103* off 44 balls) vs Essex; and 1-33 vs Sussex to keep the target down to a manageable 170. Taylor – 34 now but with a CV that comprises 15 years of international experience compiled in all three formats – is exactly the kind of canny signing that turns a side that can challenge into a side that can win.

Ball Six – Finch flies high in London derby

Performance of the Week in the South Group goes to Surrey’s openers, Aaron Finch (117*) and Jason Roy (84). While Mohammad Nabi was doing his thing to redefine chasing, the Australia and England biffers looked at a target of 222 set by Middlesex and annihilated it in 16 overs of carnage. The runs scored in each over as they constructed a stand of 194 in 84 balls bears repeating: 14, 17, 23, 15, 14, 15, 15, 10, 12, 9, 15, 11, 10, 14. Of course, it’s not to everyone’s taste, but such consistency is a testament to skills polished by hours of practice, a Derren Brown like ability to read bowlers’ minds and a freedom instilled by a captain and coach who lets them play as they wish without fear of failure. Instead of bemoaning T20’s morphing into something akin to baseball, maybe we should celebrate its stars for the entertainment they provide.



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